Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

What is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

Most retail food products result from long and complex production and supply chains with variable impacts on environmental health and natural resources.

A life cycle assessment (LCA) is a tool for analyzing the environmental impacts and resources used throughout a product's life, from raw materials extraction to production, and extending through product use and disposal.

Diagram of a product's supply chain

LCA can be used to compare alternative products, processes or services; compare alternative life cycles for a certain product or service; or identify the parts of a life cycle where the greatest improvements can be made.

A standard LCA framework consists of the following distinct steps:

  • Goal and scope definition, which includes defining the system boundary and functional unit of analysis
  • Life cycle inventory (LCI), which includes identification and quantification of all inputs at each stage of the life cycle included within the system boundary
  • Impact analysis
  • Interpretation of impact analysis

Life cycle assessment is the “gold standard” method for understanding the environmental impacts of food products.

Resources & Tools

UC SAREP researchers have developed LCA models for several food products: